A.CHAL (aka Alejandro Salazar) is a tall dude who cuts an imposing figure, filling every room he steps into with silent intensity. His voice carries as much weight as the booming bass he produces for his music, but he's soft-spoken during our interview, rarely speaking above a murmur. There's an interesting duality to his persona as a singer, rapper, producer and solo artist, which continues to evolve on his latest release, On GAZ.
On GAZ, A.CHAL’s third release and first mixtape, arrived on June 2, four years after his debut EP, Ballroom Riots, and just one year after his first full-length album, Welcome to GAZI. On the latter release, the Peruvian-American artist was the self-aware party boy who sought self-reflection and self-critique after debaucherous nights out on the town. On this new release, which features appearances by French Montana and A$AP Nast, A.CHAL confronts his feelings of guilt after his insecurities convinced him to destroy numerous personal relationships in the months leading up to the release of Welcome to GAZI.
A.CHAL sharpened his skills as a songwriter while living in New York, but friends urged him to head west to Los Angeles. Since moving here, he's been better able to find inspiration and outlets for his creativity, resulting in an album, a mixtape and songwriting credits for the likes of Rita Ora, Max Martin and Jennifer Lopez.
“It’s old-school,” he says of the way things work in New York. “The music industry out there feels like Wall Street. You got the offices there but they seem disconnected from the creative process. Out here, it’s cool. You go into a studio and you run into another creative that’s fire and he’s going to inspire you. You don’t get that in New York. You feel like you live in a computer chip ... all these trains and cars passing, just these flashes of electricity just going through the wires. Out here, at least, you have the freedom and option of going to the beach, taking a hike, waterfalls, farms. You can go horseback riding 30 minutes from here.”
It’s odd to imagine that horseback rides and waterfalls played a part in fueling the creative spark for a mixtape that is darker in tone and sound than its predecessor. Tracks such as “Shadows” and “To the Light” are emblematic of the mixtape’s theme and tone as A.CHAL croons about dealing with the karma of his mistakes and sins and learning how to move on from paralyzing guilt, all set to a soundtrack of thumping, hypnotic R&B.
“It has a classic vibe,” A.CHAL says of “To the Light,” On GAZ's lead single. “That’s one of my main goals: to create a classic sound in a modern-sounding environment. I was listening to it through a walkie-talkie when we were shooting the video, and the way it sounded had no low [end] but it felt like it was from the '70s.”
The titles to each of his albums refer to "GAZ" or being "GAZI." Though they seem like random words, there's nothing random about what it means to him personally. His debut LP was titled Welcome to GAZI as a way to invite listeners into his world view, and he's made numerous sacrifices to stay true to his vision.
"I rejected a significant amount of money last year," he explains. "My No. 1 priority isn’t the money or the status. It’s more so building something iconic, legendary, so I know that comes with a lot of risk-taking."
GAZI as a state of mind and consciousness also reflects A.CHAL's Latino upbringing. He was born in Lima and raised in the Peruvian city of Trujillo, further north, where his family lived in a shanty with a roof made of hay. His family made the decision to leave Peru for the United States when he was 4 years old.
“My dad did what he could,” he says. “He used to cut out cardboard boxes and carve out animals and hang them on the wall. That would be my toys because he couldn’t afford to buy any.”
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A.CHAL and his family lived in New York for a few years, surrounded by a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, before moving to a suburb in Massachusetts dominated by Irish and Italian families. “They were throwing rocks at my house because we were the only Latin people there,” he recalls.
A.CHAL still visits his homeland on a regular basis. He went hiking two years ago in the tiny village of San Jose, where his grandfather owns farmland, and discovered pieces of ancient human remains and Incan writing scattered throughout. On another recent visit, he partook in an ayahuasca ritual with his parents.
Finding a balance between the culture of Peru and his adopted home country is central to the concept of GAZI, whose trajectory he has a clear vision of over the next several years. “With GAZI, we want to attack all areas, not just music," he explains. "Lifestyle, anything visual like creating documentary pieces and doing things that reach out to people and kids like us when we were growing up, who could be kind of confused.
"That is my goal this year, more than having a No. 2 song or being the hottest artist," he concludes. "It all goes back to the youth. Helping kids, helping adults as well. Music is a remedy.”